Paris. The philosopher Paul Ricœur, (1913-2005) mentor of Emmanuel Macron, distinguished the memory of survivors from the written memory, ranked by historians, for historical events. The future “Terrorism Memorial Museum” (MMT) sought by the President of the Republic will reconcile these two memories, overseen by historian Henry Rousso, a specialist in World War II.
The name of the future establishment, the first of its kind in France, shows that the issues are intertwined: how to reconcile a museum and a memorial? In other words, how can meditation be reconciled with historical, even political, reflection on terrorism? The ex-hostage of the Islamic State organization Nicolas Hénin, member of the scientific council of the MMT, sees more wealth in it than an obstacle: “The museum gives an educational virtue to the memorial, and the memorial gives solemnity to the museum, the two complement each other. † Henry Rousso, Chairman of the General Assembly of the MMT Public Interest Group, explains: “The monument and the museum have two different functions, but we attach great importance to them being one and the same place” on the same site. The site Emmanuel Macron chose in 2021 previously housed the Suresnes outdoor school (Hauts-de Seine) and is located on Mont Valérien. The ultimate idea is to realize a memorial center on this hill. As regards the legal status of the future establishment, discussions with the supervisory authorities (seven in number) are continuing; According to Henry Rousso: “It is likely that MMT will become a public institution”, with perhaps a “Musée de France” label. Society museum, historical museum, research center, the scientific project does not come about.
“A place of reflection and tribute”
This document reveals in great detail the choices made jointly by the management team and the scientific and cultural council of the MMT, under the watchful eye of the Orientation Observatory chaired by the Prosecutor General, François Molins. Representatives of civil society and government services, together with researchers, participate in the development of the project, for a total of sixty people, including the visual artist Esther Shalev-Gerz, the director of the Museum of Arab World Institute Nathalie Bondil, several doctors and victims of acts of terrorism. The future site will have to reflect the choices of these different components, as well as the missions entrusted to it by the public authorities. Henry Rousso summarizes these missions: “The monument will be a place of meditation and tribute to the victims”, in particular to victims of terrorist acts recognized in France since the 1974 law, and to French victims abroad.“The museum will provide a reflection on the history of terrorism, on the fate of the victims and on the reactions of society”, adds the historian, citing memorials and museums in the United States and Norway as models. In time, the museum will combine a permanent exhibition, most of which is devoted to terrorist attacks since the 1960s, with more specific temporary exhibitions. The course aims to focus on the consequences in France of all types of terrorist events, with a special focus on the victims.
The political context is recalled for each period, whether the attacks of the 1980s by Palestinian groups targeting the Jewish community or those of the Corsican separatists. Henry Rousso here evokes the good distance that must be found to present the terrorists, especially if they are famous (Carlos, the Direct Action group).
What types of objects and documents are exhibited at MMT? The project presented last March lists the court seals, the audiovisual archives and the personal objects of the victims, indicating that the museum is building up its collections. For example, visitors would be able to access evidence of the investigation and trial of the murder of the Prefect Claude Erignac (1998), or certain attacks of the 1980s. The victims will be a big part of this journey, through testimonials and personal items donated to MMT. This is an important aspect of the future museum according to Henry Rousso, who indicates that “filmed interviews” be able to complete the ongoing collection campaign with victims, their relatives and associations. The impact of terrorist acts on society will be documented through excerpts from the written and television press, fiction and testimonials. The political and judicial response to terrorism will not be forgotten (state of emergency, security laws, major trials). One question remains: what place for violence? Henry Rousso indicates it will be exposed “with all due reserve and distance, avoid the spectacular and understatement”† Works of contemporary art can contribute to this and several artists have already expressed an interest in MMT.
An educational or even preventive mission, and of repair
The project is therefore very ambitious, all the more so as the memorial museum will have to fulfill an educational mission bordering on politics. Henry Rousso emphasizes the importance of mediation, especially with texts “multi-level reading, sound bubbles and interactive devices”† Nicolas Hénin, for his part, hopes that certain social groups will be attacked more precisely: “I expect that MMT has great potential for counteracting radicalization and even for recovery, for example of TIG prisoners. We must also avoid voyeurism and the political instrumentalization of terrorism.”
According to Henry Rousso, no political opposition has emerged to date to applaud this “minimal consensus on this project despite a very strong polarization of society”†
The MMT should open in 2027 at the earliest, after a total rehabilitation of the listed buildings, which date from the 1930s. It is therefore a project that requires continued involvement of the State.